NFL Pick: Baltimore Ravens vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Baltimore Ravens (8-6 SU, 7-7 ATS) vs. Los Angeles Chargers (11-3 SU, 8-6 ATS)
NFL Week 16
Date/Time: Saturday, December 22, 2018 at 8:20PM EST
Where: ROKiT Field at StubHub Center, Carson, California
By Loot Levinson, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: BAL +4.5/LAC -4.5
Over/Under Total: 45
In AFC action in suburban LA, the Baltimore Ravens come into town to face the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday night. It’s a nice game. The Ravens head into this one with some steam. Four wins in their last five games have put Baltimore in a good spot at 8-6, a half-game behind the Steelers for the division title and also in the wild card hunt should that not happen. On Sunday, they beat Tampa, 20-12, but have their hands full with a red-hot home Chargers’ team, winners of ten of their last 11 games. The last one was the sweetest, with a heart-stopping 29-28 win over the Chiefs. They are now tied for first and are starting to show the quality of a real contender. It means a lot for both teams, but I see Baltimore emerging from SoCal with the cover on Saturday.
Laying Out the Stakes
The Chargers are already in the playoffs. That doesn’t mean they want to settle for a wild card spot after working so hard to even divisional matters with the Chiefs. Finishing the season on a winning note would lock up a top-seeding whereas a slip-up now could result in having to play on wild card weekend. It would just be a strange time for the Bolts to start slacking off mentally. They had the long week, are at home, and have a lot riding in the line. The Ravens, though, are facing even higher stakes. With the second-place AFC West team taking a wild card slot, that leaves the pickings slim for other playoff hopefuls. The streaky Ravens worked hard to get back on the winning track. But those wins came against some dicey teams and this road-spot looms as a much more-serious test.
Can Baltimore’s Defense Win the Day
They are not going to win a foot-race with the Chargers. They don’t have the aerial wherewithal to compete on that front. They do have the top-ranked defense in the league, a group that has allowed fewer points than any team in the league. They excel across all areas. This is a group that held the Steelers to 37 total points in two games, while the Saints could only put up 24 points. One opponent has surpassed 21 points in the last five weeks. Safety Eric Weddle goes against his old team this week and along with Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, and Tony Jefferson, the pass-defense has been stellar. Terrell Suggs, Matthew Judon (questionable), Za’Darius Smith, and CJ Mosley round out a group that brings more menace to the table than what the Chargers have been facing.
At the same time, we are seeing a certain spark from the Chargers’ offense lately. They’re putting up a nice amount of points, but beyond that, they have a knack for the dramatic. And developing that muscle over the course of the season really comes in handy this time of the season. Not in many areas can the power of momentum be seen more than in late-game success. In recent weeks, the Chargers have come back on the road to get wins against the Steelers and Chiefs. Philip Rivers is as good under pressure as anyone. Even without Melvin Gordon, who is probable this week, they have maintained their edge. WR Mike Williams was Mr. Everything last week for the Bolts, with three TDs and the gutsy go-ahead two point conversion at the end of the game. Still, with Gordon a bit dicey and top receiver Keenan Allen questionable, maybe the Baltimore “D” can hang.
Baltimore Under the Radar
The Chargers have made a lot of noise as of late and from a betting standpoint, maybe that’s not a good thing. Less in plain view are the Ravens. While the teams they’ve been beating might not get the blood pumping, it’s also served to keep the team lower-profile. No one is really identifying the Ravens as even darkhorse contenders. But they’re the only team in decades to run for 190 yards as a team in five straight games. Lamar Jackson at quarterback has produced some nice results. He might not have the aerial flair of a Philip Rivers, but he can run the heck out of the ball and despite not playing a bunch until recently, he’s the team’s leading rusher.
The Ravens have an understated vibe, with the run-game and the defense doing the heavy lifting. Since getting into the lineup, rookie running back Gus Edwards has been one of the more effective backs in the league and he had 104 yards and a touchdown on Sunday to go along with Jackson’s 94 yards. With John Brown and Willie Snead leading the way aerially, that’s not a part of their game that should get a ton of production this week. But that run-game looms as a problem for the Chargers in week 16.
Can the Chargers Stop the Run Game
Teams other than the Steelers, Chiefs, and Rams haven’t really thrived against the Chargers this season and those teams feature high-octane aerial attacks. That’s not the Ravens’ strength. And if Lamar Jackson is off, the Chargers’ defense is a playmaking one. We will see how they withstand the pass-rush of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. The Chargers are thick inside with Damion Square and Darius Philon. They have a pair of high-action safeties, with Derwin James a nice playmaker. With Casey Hayward, that adds another playmaking dimension in the back. They have been awfully clutch in recent weeks. But getting back to the original question, there is no assurance that the Chargers can stop the run. Their recent opponents haven’t run the ball well and the ones that have this season were fairly successful.
Take the Points on the Road Underdog
The Chargers haven’t lost at home since week one, but at least there’s been four times in that span where they didn’t cover the spread. The Chargers are on a big run, but I see the Ravens’ running-game and defense giving the Chargers enough matchup issues to keep things from getting out of hand. Baltimore’s momentum and the urgency of this game should also resonate on some levels. I picture a competitive game with the Ravens hanging in there and covering the spread.
Loot’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Baltimore Ravens plus 4.5 points.